Northeastern Section (45th Annual) and Southeastern Section (59th Annual) Joint Meeting (13-16 March 2010)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:55 PM


ELLIS, Jenna1, FURMAN, Tanya2, MCANINCH, Steve3 and STOUT, Heath3, (1)Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, (2)Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, 333 Deike Building, University Park, PA 16802, (3)Park Forest Middle School, State College, PA 16801,

Earth Science provides an integrated vehicle to understand Earth processes and the evolution of the planet. In this complex field, it can be difficult to find the most beneficial way for students to master both factual and conceptual material. Even teachers with strong Earth Science backgrounds find that the nature and amount of content required by typical state standards of learning makes it challenging to determine key areas of emphasis. Educators who lack deep understanding are more likely to focus classroom time on memorization of factual content, rather than actively engaging in discovery learning. One particularly difficult topic is the study of rocks and minerals; while many resources exist for identification of small samples, there are few opportunities to help students make the link to geological phenomena. Students have difficulty moving from specimen identification to conceptualization of physical processes operating on geological scales of time and space. We report on a 10-day inquiry-based learning unit – Tectonic Geomorphology: Weathering and Erosion – developed for 7th grade with the goal of fostering rich comprehension of critical content areas and mastery of key scientific skills (laboratory practice, graphing, data interpretation). We focus on interrelationships between rock type, weathering and erosion processes, plate tectonics, and landscape development in the central Appalachians. Our pre-/post-unit assessment of student performance suggests that this approach is more successful than direct instruction at promoting student mastery. Students receiving inquiry-based instruction showed tremendous improvement in understanding and in reasoning skills involving content areas that were not addressed in the unit. These observations suggest that the students’ ability to reason and integrate across content areas was supported by the teachers and the inquiry-based learning environment. This approach differs from the traditional focus on content areas as isolated phenomena without overarching themes, processes or connections. The activities ( build upon key observation skills deployed in examining local specimens and help students identify and understand interrelationships between geological processes operating over long time scales.